Another SA winner!

2014-06-02 00:00

SOUTH Africa has restored its dominance in the Comrades Marathon as far as the men’s race is concerned, the nation waking up today to the fact that the current up and down run champions are born and bred South Africans.

This after Pietermaritzburg athlete Bongmusa Mthembu (30) surged to victory in yesterday’s 89th edition of the race, breasting the tape in 5:28:34, following the feat of Nedbank team-mate Claude Moshiywa who produced the goods for South Africa last year. He finished ahead of defending down-run champion Ludwick Mamabolo (5:33:14) and Gift Kelehe (5:34:39).

Mthembu’s win completed a remarkable sequence that saw him finish third in 2010, second in 2012 and finally gain the winner’s laurels this time around.

However, the upset of the day was in the women’s race, where the dominance of Russia’s Nurgalieva twins, Elena and Olesya, was broken on Berea Road when Eleanor Greenwood from Scotland (but living in Canada) avenged her 2012 second place to Elena with a powerful win in 6:18:15. She passed Elena on the downhill from Tollgate Bridge running like an express train, a popular winner who was strong at the finish, waving to the crowd and lapping up the moment.

Elena (6:23:18) and Olesya (6:24:51) battled on gamely to finish second and third, for once their gameplan of starting fast and building a lead failing to work. They did dominate for most of the race but the hills toward the end sapped the energy from their legs. Olesya was forced to walk on Cowies Hill and from there to the finish, the pair stopped for more walks than they would care to remember, all the while allowing Greenwood to edge closer. Going through Westville, Greenwood was nearly eight minutes adrift of the twins and her win by just over five minutes rates as one of the greatest women’s runs of all time.

Unlike Greenwood, the twins collapsed once they had crossed the line and were stretchered to the first aid tent, exhaustion and the sheer effort of trying to stay ahead having the final say.

Mthembu, always in contention, took the lead from Rufus Photo at the bottom of Cowies Hill and never looked back, running steadily and strongly to maintain his advantage and leaving those behind him with work to do if they were to have a say in who breasted the tape.

Earlier in the race, Zimbabwean Charles Soza was first through halfway at Drummond in 2:36:25, with perennial front runner Gert Thys close behind in 2:36:48. Colin Parura (2:41:54), Mike Fokoroni (2:42:26) and Marko Mambo (2:42:27) completed the top five and, a few hours later at the finish, none of the top 10 men through Drummond were in the frame. Mthembu was 15th (2:46:22) there, with Mamabolo on his shoulder.

Thys, who is renowned for running like a hare at the front of proceedings, soon began to falter, stopping to change running shoes and beginning to walk. It was over as a race for him just before descending Field’s Hill as he stopped, sat on an armco barrier, took off a shoe and faded out of the picture. Mambo, who had looked strong and smooth at Hillcrest and Kloof, grabbing the lead at one stage, was struck down by severe cramp as he started down Field’s, the last image of him being one of an athlete writhing in agony on the road as physio personnel attended to him.

By this stage, Moshiywa had sadly had to call it a day not long after Drummond as a groin problem had the final say. With him gone, the leading pack of contenders was three-time winner Stephen Muzhingi, Mamabolo and Mthembu, with Photo and Joseph Mphuti in their sights.

Mphuti led into Pinetown but was soon gathered in by the loping Photo, who in turn was hauled in by Mthembu just before the Cowies Hill climb. Mthembu had timed his move to perfection as he had broken away from the pack and started building a gap big enough to ensure that all going well, he was never going to be in doubt as this year’s winner.

His Nedbank Running Club team manager Nick Bester said at Westville that Mthembu would never be caught and his gap of 4:41 at the finish over Mamabolo confirmed his steady rhythm. Kelehe started to chase coming down Cowies toward Westville but was soon caught by the steady Muzhingi and a flying Mamebolo who had tapped into his reserves and was moving through the field. He caught Kelehe and Muzingi just before the nasty climb up to 45th Cutting but Mthembu was out of sight and had the smell of victory in his nostrils.

Mamabolo finished full of swagger, waving to the crowd and dancing on the finish line, while Kelehe came back well to keep Muzhingi (5:35:18) at bay. The latter came home a popular fourth, an improvement on his 10th last year and a remarkable effort for an athlete whose training was hampered by injury.

Photo’s (5:35:30) fifth was rich reward for a runner who had been at the front of matters all through the day and Mncedisi Mkhize (5:36:06) finished with a flurry to earn his sixth gold medal. Sweden’s Jonas Buud (5:38:17), known for coming back strongly in the second half of the race, once again proved his pedigree with another gold medal finish as he bagged seventh, ahead of Manoko Mokwalakwala (5:39:29), Prodigal Khumalo (5:39:36) and final gold medallist Latudi Makofane (5:40:41).

Crossing the line unnoticed in 11th and the first recipient of the Wally Hayward medal for breaking six hours was 22-year-old Russian Vasily Larkin (5:41:00), a prospect worth watching in future years. With 13 runners getting the Hayward medal — one of the hardest to get in the race — it gave an indication of the quality of this year’s field. The men’s gold medallists had been determined after less than five-and-three-quarter hours — a far cry from years gone by when the top runners were well spread out.

South Africa’s first woman home was Caroline Wostmann (6:51:43), sixth overall, but the biggest cheer of the day was for Zola Budd, the 48-year-old legend claiming gold in finishing seventh in 6:55:55. Russian Irina Antropova (6:34:08) was fourth and Briton Jo Meek finished with a burst to claim fifth in 6:47:02.

Through the afternoon the runners streamed in, raised arms, hugs and kissing the grass an indication of how cherished that Comrades medal really is. Another challenge had been conquered, another notch added to the stick and most importantly, the seed to return next year had been firmly sown.

Results

Men

1. Bongmusa Mthembu (Nedbank RC) KZN five hours, 28 minutes and 34 seconds (5:28:34)

2. Ludwick Mamabolo (Nedbank RC) GAUTENG 5:33:14

3. Gift Kelehe (Samancor Chrome MC) LIMPOPO 5:34:39

4. Stephen Muzhingi (Toyota AC) ZIMBABWE 5:35:18

5. Rufus Photo (Pietersburg RR) LIMPOPO 5:35:30

6. Mncedisi Mkhize (Maxed Elite) KZN 5:36:06

7. Jonas Buud (Nedbank RC) SWEDEN 5:38:17

8. Manoko William Mokwalakwala GAUTENG 5:39:29

9. Prodigal Khumalo (Maxed Elite) ZIMBABWE 5:39:36

10. Latudi Makofane (Samancor CM) Limpopo 5:40:41.

Women

1. Eleanor Greenwood (Nedbank RC) GREAT BRITAIN six hours, 18 minutes and 15 seconds (6:18:15)

2. Elena Nurgalieva (Toyota AC) RUSSIA 6:23:18

3. Olesya Nurgalieva (Toyota AC) RUSSIA 6:24:51

4. Irina Antropova (Nedbank RC) RSA 6:34:08

5. Jo Meek (Toyota AC) GREAT BRITAIN 6:47:02

6. Caroline Wostmann (Nedbank RC) GAUTENG 6:51:43

7. Zola Budd Pieterse (Hooters AC) RSA 6:55:55

8. Frida Södermark (GoIF Tjalve) SWEDEN 6:57:33

9. Martinique Potgieter (Pietersburg RR) LIMPOPO 7:00:46

10. Julanie Basson (Toyota AC) GAUTENG 7:02:50.

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